Sporting Kansas City declare themselves “greatest team in MLS”… Are they?

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In case you missed it, Sporting Kansas City made a massive splash over the weekend by locking up U.S. internationals Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to long-term contract extensions and made them Designated Players in the process.

Those deals came after European clubs made some serious moves to snap up both SKC stars, who have been with the club since 2009 just before the club was rebranded as Sporting.

[RELATED: What do Zusi, Besler deals mean for MLS?]

Both Besler and Zusi have been shining lights in the clubs rebirth as one of Major League Soccer’s biggest success stories.

Getting Besler and Zusi to remain in MLS is a very big deal, I wrote more on that here, and signifies a marquee moment in the league’s history. Being able to pay players enough money to swat away the lure of fame and fortune in Europe is no mean feat and shows how far the league has come over the past two to three years.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday night after the deals were confirmed, CEO of SKC’s parent company Sporting Club, Robb Heinemann, aired some pretty bold statements about how big Sporting KC are as a club.

Here’s what Heinemann had to say about his side’s greatness and how big they can become.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff on social media around – ‘Oh, you know, this is not a good decision for the guys from a national team perspective’ – and to me, that’s complete BS. This is one of the best clubs in the world from a development perspective. The opportunity and the tools that are available here, including Peter and the way he trains these guys, is world-class. So any reference or thought that it’s not a first-class opportunity for these guys to be here, to me, is just complete crap.

“This club has the desire to be one of the greatest in the world. I think right now, we’re the greatest in MLS. Frankly, I think there’s no question that we’re the greatest in MLS. And we’re going to do everything that we can to try to continue to advance the vision of the club over time.”

The “greatest in MLS”… is that true?

Lets look at the facts. Sporting KC, correct me if I’m wrong, are the reigning MLS Cup champions. On the field they were the best team in MLS last season. This year they are currently trucking along atop the Eastern Conference standings and have represented MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Off the field, the way the organization has rebranded themselves is remarkable. Their purpose-built stadium, Sporting Park, is a joy to behold and sells out constantly at just under 20,000. SKC have the seventh-largest average attendance figures in MLS in 2014 (19,842) and could easily attract more fans.

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With their wonderful stadium, fanbase and recent success on the field, are SKC the best in MLS?

Sporting have developed guys like Besler and Zusi into U.S. national team stars after drafting them from college and they have given plenty of other young Americans, such as Erik Palmer-Brown, the chance to step up. However when you look around MLS, can you definitively say that Sporting are the greatest club? No.

The great thing about what people are calling ‘MLS 3.0’ is that organizations such as the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and in more recent times Toronto FC, have elevated the league to a whole new level. Seattle are averaging 42,771 fans per home game, while Toronto, Vancouver, Portland, the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake are all getting over 20,000. A great club is defined by the number of fans who show up, their influence on the domestic league and further afield, how many great players they develop, how many trophies they win and many other factors.

If you look around the league, so many different teams can claim they are the “greatest” for one reason or another. As the history of MLS begins to take shape, we can look back on the four titles LA have won compared to KC’s two and make certain arguments. How about Seattle and the New York Red Bulls bringing big-name DPs to the league, does that make them “great”? That’s what it is all about, there is no right or wrong answer here. We should take only positives from Heinemann’s comments as he fuels the flames of debate around the MLS community.

Is it fair to call Sporting KC “the greatest” club in MLS? No. They are one of a number of great clubs in MLS. That is something to get excited about as the future for North America’s top-flight has perhaps never been brighter.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

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